Happy holidays! Ok, ok, we know it’s only September. But the holiday season has a sneaky way of creeping up on us – before we know it we’ll be setting ice skating dates and baking cookies for neighbors. It also has a way of sneaking up on our bank accounts. Hey, they don’t call it the most expensive (er, wonderful) time of the year for nothing.
Even with the light at the end of the COVID tunnel getting closer, we’re not out of the woods quite yet, and after the rocky year and a half or so that we’ve had, it makes sense to feel both excited (we might actually get to spend the holidays in person with our friends and families!) and a little nervous (how are we supposed to afford all of those holiday gifts?) Even though the holiday celebrations are a few months out, it might take some of the weight off your shoulders to do a bit of planning ahead of time.
Here are some ideas for creating and sticking to a budget, cutting down on costs, and planning ahead during the upcoming holiday season.
Let’s begin with our favorite topic: The Budget. We’re not talking about your gifting budget (we’ll get to that in a moment) but rather your overall budget. Before you even think about the holiday dress you “need” or that perfect gift for your partner, check in with your finances.
Many of us were affected financially by the pandemic and you’re not alone if you’re feeling like pennies are still a bit pinched. Based on your personal cash flow, come up with a reasonable amount of money in total that you are comfortable putting towards holiday related expenses. Be sure to factor in decorations, food, holiday travel, entertaining, gifts, and charitable giving. Because you’re planning early on, you have the advantage of being able to set money aside bit by bit to cover these expenses, making the financial burden feel more manageable.
The holiday gift budget
Now for the gift budget. Start by grabbing a sheet of paper or opening a blank Google doc and writing down the names of each person on your gift list. Next, set a spending limit for each person and write that down next to their name. Now, add up the amounts in the money column. Things add up quickly, don’t they?
If your number seems too high, break down where you could potentially cut back a bit. Instead of buying each of your best friends a $20 gift, you could buy ornaments in bulk and decorate them. Bake cookies instead of buying Starbucks gift cards. Knit your neighbor a scarf.
You could also broach the subject with family members. Chances are, some of them are feeling the same way you are about budgeting for the holidays, and they’d probably be grateful at the idea of a gift exchange or a spending cap.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that it’s the thought that counts. Your friends and family members will appreciate the effort you made, regardless of whether a gift cost $10 or $100.
Cut costs on holiday activities
If your family has a tradition to splurge on a night out to watch the Nutcracker, we’re not going to tell you not to go, but be mindful of using “the holiday season” as an excuse to splurge.
There are also a host of free or inexpensive holiday activities to take advantage of, such as cozy nights in watching festive movies, walking around the neighborhood to take in the twinkle lights, or sledding!
Book your travel early on
The holiday season is one of the busiest and most expensive times to travel during a normal year. Coming off of the pandemic with an increasing number of passengers being fully vaccinated, coupled with countries rolling back border restrictions, it’s safe to say we can expect a travel surge this winter. If you haven’t already, book any travel accommodations as soon as possible. That includes hotels, rental cars, and plane, train, or bus tickets.
Take advantage of your credit card perks
Do you get double the points for every dollar you spend? Do you rack up airline miles? Take advantage by putting holiday expenses on your credit card. Maybe your gift purchases will end up paying for your holiday plane ticket to mom and dad’s!
Bonus tip: steer clear of opening up store credit cards. Especially leading up to the holidays, it seems as though every store at the mall is offering up one gimmick or another to convince you that you need a new credit card. Just say no.
As the holidays approach, get in touch with The Humphreys Group for a second opinion on your financial picture.